Author: Baldassare Castiglione
First published: Il libro del cortegiano, 1528 (English translation, 1561)
Time: March, 1507
Lady Elisabeta Gonzaga (eh-leez-ah-BEHT-ah gon-ZAH-gah), who became duchess of Urbino when she married Duke Guidobaldo in 1488. She organizes the activities at her court during four evenings in March, 1507; discussions begin and end when she says so. Although her husband is on his deathbed and they have no children, she is a gracious hostess, idealized as the model of female virtue and paid many compliments.
Lady Emilia Pia (PEE-ah), the widow of the duke's illegitimate brother and the confidante of the duchess. She is the first to speak in defense of women and has the shrewdest tongue of all the women present.
Count Lewis (Ludovico) of Canossa, a relative and friend of the author. A diplomat visiting Urbino, he leads the discussion on the first evening, during which he and others try to determine the qualities and speech of the ideal courtier.
Sir Frederick (Federico) Fregoso, a courtier, soldier, and diplomat; brother of Lord Octavian. A student of languages and the friend of literary figures such as the author, he leads the discussion on the second evening, explaining how a courtier should behave and speak.
Lord Octavian Fregoso, a native of Genoa, where he was elected doge in 1513. Living in temporary exile at Urbino, he leads the fourth evening's debate about the relationship of the courtier to the prince and about the ideal form of government.
Lord Julian (Giuliano) de Medicis (MEH-dee-chees), the youngest child of Lorenzo de Medici. Like Lord Octavian, he is living in temporary exile at Urbino. He is asked to begin the discussion on the third evening. His subject is the ideal woman at court but extends to the relative merits of women in general. He takes a “separate but equal” view of men and women, wanting to be manly and women to be womanly and seeing equal potential for virtue in both.
Bernard Bibiena (bee-bee-EH-nah), a courtier (whose true name is Bernardo Dovizi) in the service of Lord Julian's older brother Giovanni de Medici (soon to become Pope Leo X). He is a writer and a friend of the author as well as a patron of Raphael. A great wit, he serves as an authority on humor during the discussion on the second evening, telling many funny stories.
Gaspar Pallavicin (pahl-lah-vee-cheen), or Pallavacino Gaspare, a native of Lombardy. He is young and sickly. He is the cynic in the group and is especially cynical about women. His comments on the second evening lead to a delightful exchange with Lady Emilia and to the decision that the third evening should be devoted to the qualities desirable in a woman at court. He does not change his opinion, but his opinions are pushed so far to the side that he hardly dares to speak after the third evening.
Pietro Bembo (pee-EH-troh), a poet and courtier associated with the courtly circle at Urbino from 1506 until 1512. Bembo admires the literary style of Petrarch and Boccaccio and delivers the most famous speech in the text. As the fourth evening draws to an end, he describes the ideal of Platonic love.
Francesco Maria della Rovere (roh-VEH-reh), who was appointed prefect of Rome in 1504. He ruled Urbino as a papal fief from 1508, when Duke Guidobaldo died, until 1516, when driven out by the troops of Pope Leo X. He was the author's patron during these years and is described in kind terms, though he does not have a major role in the text.